At Spiritus, the attorney is reuniting with two former colleagues, co-founding partners Rob and Marbet Lewis.
Here, Law360 chats with Zelkowitz about his move and the Miami hospitality and real estate landscape heading into 2021.
How do you feel about moving to the firm and your new role?
First of all, I’m very humbled and excited to join Spiritus Law. Rob and Marbet Lewis are longtime former partners, colleagues, friends, and when we were practicing together at one of our former firms, I mean we just had such a great synergy as we worked through different projects, especially with their hospitality and alcohol beverage practice.
I have a hospitality practice, but my focus is on business and transactional matters. So I’m very excited because I think what we are able to do now, to be able to bolster the Spiritus platform, is to provide the clients, especially the hospitality clients, with a one-stop shop for all their needs, and that includes all their permitting; all their real estate-type needs for facilities, whether they’re buying or leasing; their financial services, bank loans, institutional lending and the like.
So I think it’s going to be something that’s great for me, great for them, and is going to propel the firm through 2021 and beyond.
What made you want to move over to the firm?
I’ve been in a lot of large law firms and just recently experiencing a lot of, when you’re with a national firm, conflict issues, a lot of bureaucratic and administrative procedures that sort of take away from what us lawyers really want to do, which is practice law, and that’s what I enjoy doing.
And I enjoy the deal, I enjoy structuring the deal, I enjoy the camaraderie of working with folks who feel the same. And not to say that wasn’t happening at Fox, but with Rob and Marbet, again, there’s just sort of this special connection that the three of us have together and the way we’re able to structure deals and present them to the clients.
So I think the move is more … it’s nice to rejoin friends and colleagues, but it’s also to sort of free me up to be able to practice law in the way I enjoy the most.
Is moving to a smaller law firm new for you?
It is. I’ve worked at small firms in the past. When I first moved to Florida — I came from New York originally — I worked for Lord Day & Lord, Barrett Smith … I went to the Orlando office of Foley and then I came to Miami.
I understand how smaller firms operate, and then having been the managing partner for the Miami offices for both an Am Law 200 and Am Law 100 firm, I know how BigLaw operates and can bring that expertise and that managerial experience here to Spiritus because the platform here again is amazing.
Rob and Marbet have grown a great firm, and we look to grow the firm to be, in addition to a boutique hospitality, alcohol beverage, real estate, financial services firm, to add other practices areas as well to round us out.
Is that one of your challenges entering this new role, finding new ways to expand?
I’m not sure it’s really much of a challenge as it is something I enjoy doing. I did that at GrayRobinson. I grew two offices for them, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, each up to over 40 attorneys. The idea was, in moving to Fox, was to do that because that is something I enjoy. I enjoy creating that atmosphere where you attract talent, you engage talent, and you grow the firm. And at Fox, that was the idea.
And in leaving, it was a very amicable situation. We had hoped that it’d be something a little more productive and the growth had been more prolific, but it wasn’t. And so I look forward to working on that here at Spiritus, and I’m confident that we’ll be able to grow the firm here. I mean I’ve already been contacted by a number of former partners and associates who are saying, “Oh, my God, look at you; the three of you are back together again. We want to be a part of that, we enjoy working with you.” You know, it’s already starting to happen, I feel it.
How do you foresee tackling some of the issues facing the hospitality industry amid the pandemic and into 2021?
That’s a very good question, and it’s something that I recently spoke to at the Invest: Miami 2020 about the future of finance for 2021 and beyond in Miami. And I do also have a number of hospitality clients who have had substantial challenges due to the pandemic, both hotels as well as restaurants. The way that you handle these things is the ability to sort of flip your practice.
For example, the hospitality clients who I helped originate over $200 million worth of loans to complete and fit out their hotels back in, let’s say 2013, 2014, are now working on forbearance agreements and loan modifications. So we’re also involved in getting those clients the government assistance, the [Paycheck Protection Program] and the Main Street loans.
It’s been a very interesting year. So while the hospitality industry itself has faced these challenges with very little occupancy rates due to the governmental restrictions — which have now been lifted here, luckily for Florida and Miami in particular — but the legal industry, I found over the last year I was probably more busy than I’ve been in a long time. And I attribute that to what we just talked about, as well as working with my governmental clients in creating financial assistance programs, similar to the ones that the federal government has put in place, at the local level, to assist small businesses and homeowners facing financial challenges due to the pandemic.
So it’s been a very busy year.
Do you see some of these adjustments or changes being more permanent, or will they be temporary?
Again, it’s uncharted territory and unprecedented times. No one could have ever foreseen what occurred in 2020, so it’s sort of predicting what’s going to happen in 2021. It’s a little bit difficult, but what I can say is I think the opportunity here in Miami is very robust. The banks are lending money, the transactions are continuing to occur.
And I do see in the hospitality industry the occupancy rates starting to bump up a little bit. So I think it’s all part and parcel of the overall national and global outlook when it comes to a pandemic like this. And the fact that the vaccine is now getting out in the mainstream, it’s going to give people confidence to travel, to go to hotels, to go to the movies, and to go to restaurants again. So I’m very positive, I’m very bullish in Miami. I’ve been down here for 25 years. I’ve seen tremendous positive changes in the real estate development, cultural and overall financial landscape, so I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.
It’s just a question of how much water is coming out of the faucet, whether it’s a trickle, or whether it’s a downpour. Again, it’s hard to predict, but I see it from a very positive standpoint.